Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Biography of Emperor Hirohito a whitewash: US historian Herbert Bix

Herbert Bix, the respected US historian and author of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, has launched a withering criticism of the Imperial Household Agency for attempting to whitewash the emperor’s responsibility for the Second World War.

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Guanyu 道 said...

Biography of Emperor Hirohito a whitewash: US historian Herbert Bix

Julian Ryall in Tokyo
08 October 2014

Herbert Bix, the respected US historian and author of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, has launched a withering criticism of the Imperial Household Agency for attempting to whitewash the emperor’s responsibility for the Second World War.

In an opinion article for The New York Times, Bix said the release in early September of the 61-volume, 12,000-page official biography of Emperor Hirohito should have been an “occasion for reflection” on a conflict that claimed the lives of 20 million Asians.

Instead, the agency - infamous in Japan as the true power behind the Chrysanthemum Throne - had “dodged important questions” about events before, during and after the war, Bix wrote, and “perpetuates the false but persistent image ... of a benign, passive figurehead”.

Bix, whose Making of Modern Japan won a Pulitzer Prize, also accused the Japanese media of being complicit in this portrayal of the emperor, who died in 1989.

And despite the agency’s desire to have the emperor depicted as little more than a yes-man to a series of military-led governments through the 1920s and 1930s, Bix insisted that “Hirohito was never a puppet”.

Hirohito failed to prevent his army from invading Manchuria in 1931 and then sanctioned the full-scale invasion of China in 1937, Bix pointed out. He “exercised close control” over the use of chemical weapons in China and approved the unannounced attack at Pearl Harbour.

“The new history suffers from serious omissions in editing and the arbitrary selection of documents,” Bix wrote, adding that instead of tackling important issues head-on, “the scholars noted Hirohito’s schoolboy writings and commented on trivialities like the discovery of the place where his placenta was buried”.

Among the few positives to emerge were confirmation of the emperor’s “bullheadedness” in delaying surrender, even when it was evident that defeat was unavoidable, and his desire to enlist the help of Russia’s Joseph Stalin to win more favourable peace terms.

Had the emperor consented to Japan’s surrender more swiftly, Bix pointed out, the firebombing of the nation’s cities and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could conceivably been avoided.

Contrary to the image carefully put together by the agency in the 25 years since his death, Bix said the emperor was “a timid opportunist” whose prime aim as the war turned against his armies was to preserve the monarchy.

Bix also pointed out that the release of the memoirs coincided with the “campaign to pump up nationalist pride” being waged by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Imperial Household Agency declined to comment.